I've written on numerous occasions over the past few seasons about what will happen to the Yanks After George. The $64,000 question is not "What will happen to the Bronx Bombers when Torre is gone?" but "What will happen when George is gone?" For anyone under 35 (I just turned 34), we simply don't know what a Yankee Universe is like without George. We're accustomed to his ways, for better or for worse. And though we've heard in the media that behind closed doors Steinbrenner is still as incorrigible as ever, publicly, he's a far cry from the Bronx Zoo Boss of the 1970s and '80s.
What? He called Hideki Irabu a slob in 1999, he traded for Mondesi a few years later, busted Don Zimmer's chops to no end, and took turns giving Derek Jeter and Joe Torre some grief too. This is all mild stuff coming out of Steinbrenner.
Yet when the Yanks struggle, there is great anticipation about "What George will do next?" I think the guy is a far cry from what he once was, and I'm guilty of expecting an explosion every now and again. You'd think this would be the year he'd let loose. Fire the pitching coach or the general manager: something, already.
But it's becoming increasingly clear that there will be no fireworks. Not in the same way we used to see. I was thinking about this last week, when I noticed that Tom Verducci hit on how George has changed in his recent mailbag column. In talking about Brian Cashman, Verducci wrote:
He works for a very different Steinbrenner than the stereotype people keep writing about (he's extremely sensitive now and hasn't fired anybody in years).
Picking up on this theme, Mike Lupica has an outstanding piece on Steinbrenner today in the Daily News. I grew up reading Lupica, and though I've never admired him as a stylist, I respect the fact that he's been covered Steinbrenner and the Yankees for close to thirty years. When he's good, Lupica still can hit the nail right on the head. He doesn't often write long articles anymore, but this one is choice:
Anybody who watched his recent interview on YES with Michael Kay or watched this staged media event the other day, has to know that the Boss Steinbrenner that is still written about and discussed on television and the radio does not exist. He can still blow his top. He can still make a headline. But he is as real now as the young Mike Tyson is real.
...The truth is, Steinbrenner says hardly anything of interest anymore.
The Boss that the media and the Yankees still want, the Reggie-Billy-Bronx Zoo boss, no longer exists.
Lupica speculates who might take control once George steps down, and how it will impact the organization. He doesn't think it looks promising, and I have to agree. There has been a lot to dislike about Steinbrenner over the years, but he also has tried to put a winning team on the field, no matter the cost. Some Yankee fans might grow to really miss him once he's gone. (Last year, Allen Barra wrote an appreciation of Steinbrenner for the Village Voice, and suggested that we should be thankful for what Boss George has given us now...six world championships and ten World Series appearances in just over thirty years.) Lupica believes that those days are close to being over. Then, in his own, inimitable way, he calls it like it is:
It is obvious by now that love Steinbrenner or hate him, there will never be another owner, in any city in any sport, like him.